Manziel to Browns, Bortles to Jags, more NFL draft possibilities we love
When the NFL draft rolls around, fantasy owners always dream of their keeper quarterback being paired with the best wide receiver available, or their sleeper running back's team drafting a road-grading offensive guard to make holes for their tailback.
There are certain pairings that just serve fantasy football owners better than others, and these six possible pairings below would all prove beneficial to the NFL veteran's fantasy value. The odds of seeing all six of these fantasy marriages come to fruition is highly unlikely, but seeing just three or four should have fantasy football owners smiling after the draft.
Johnny Manziel & Josh Gordon
There is not a more dynamic player in this draft than the former Texas A&M quarterback. He's the only freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy, and after two seasons, he's deemed an NFL-ready quarterback by many scouts.
The Browns are heavy favorites as the team to draft him, considering they are the most QB-desperate team in the NFL, but they're going to need to adjust their offense to meet his needs. He's not a prototypical drop-back passer, and a moving pocket seems like a smart move no matter what.
Would a more classic quarterback be better to get the ball downfield to Gordon? Possibly, but I like Manziel's ability to keep a play alive, which would allow Gordon even more time to get open.
Blake Bortles & Cecil Shorts
If Manziel is the most dynamic quarterback in the draft, then Bortles checks in as the best drop-back passer in the draft. Despite being a tower of a player, standing at 6-foot-5, he moves around well in the pocket, which is a skill he'll need, as the Jaguars offensive line gave up the second-most sacks in the NFL last season (50). Some of that might be due to quarterbacks Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne not getting rid of the ball quickly enough, or even because Shorts' teammates weren't getting open.
The Jaguars still have Justin Blackmon on the roster, despite being suspended indefinitely for a third violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy, but it remains to be seen what will happen with him. One thing is certain -- he's too unstable off the field for the Jaguars to rely on him as their No. 1 wide receiver on the field.
Shorts, meanwhile, is coming off a disappointing season, after a 2012 breakout. If he can come back completely healthy from last year's groin surgery, he'll be working on a big rebound season in the final year of his contract.
Matching Bortles with Shorts is a good move by the Jaguars, as they need to start building a passing game into an asset rather than a liability. The young quarterback out of UCF has drawn comparisons to players like Andrew Luck and Ben Roethlisberger, which are obviously two very optimistic comparisons. But even if he's a shade like those guys, the Jaguars -- and Shorts -- will be more than happy.
Carlos Hyde & New England Patriots
The Pats already have Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden on their roster, so how can adding the Ohio State running back beneficial to fantasy owners?
Consider that Hyde is a bruising back that teams can lean on between the tackles, with the speed to also get around the outside. He doesn't have great hands, but he did catch a touchdown pass in last season's Orange Bowl game. In the NFL, though, he's going to be limited in the passing game -- which is where Vereen comes into play.
The Patriots let LeGarrette Blount sign with the Steelers in March, so Hyde could handle Blount's carries from a season ago, and possibly some of Ridley's touches, as well (Ridley's four fumbles last season cost him the lead running back position). With just Blount's stats (155 touches, 810 yards and seven touchdowns), he would have finished as the sixth-best rookie running back last season with 123 fantasy points, just behind Andre Ellington. Now, factor in more touches stolen from Ridley and more catches than Blount's two, and Hyde would end up closer to the production of Le'Veon Bell, Giovani Bernard and Zac Stacy (159 to 174 fantasy points). He might not be the next Eddie Lacy (210), but the Patriots are on the field more than most teams (only Denver had more offensive plays from scrimmage), and he'd get plenty of chances.
Charles Sims & Browns offensive line
The Browns' underrated offensive line could certainly receive a boost if its backfield had more talent. In walks RB Ben Tate, formerly of the Houston Texans, as a free-agent signee, and now the Browns just need to track down a suitable quarterback. They're expected to draft a quarterback with one of their three picks among the top 35 in the draft. They could go running back with one of those picks, but most likely, they'll pick one up later, like West Virginia's Charles Sims.
With Tate on board, the need for a running back isn't quite as dire as before, but they definitely still need help. Plus, with so many teams going with a two-back system, the Browns would be smart to follow suit.
Tate's presence allows the Browns to wait a bit before grabbing a tailback, but the fifth-year veteran has just nine starts in his NFL career and he has totaled just 421 carries the past four seasons. Injuries had a hand in that (as did Arian Foster), and while new Browns head coach Mike Pettine sees Tate as a lead back, it's tough to ignore past knee and ankle issues.
Sims caught 45 passes for 401 yards and three touchdowns last season, and has a reputation as an excellent pass blocker, which a rookie quarterback will no doubt be thankful for. Sims could work nicely as a third-down guy behind Tate, with potential to take away more carries.
Mike Evans & Josh McCown
Last month, new head coach Lovie Smith and new GM Jason Licht decided to trade troubled veteran Mike Williams to Buffalo for a sixth-round pick, leaving a huge hole opposite star receiver Vincent Jackson. Evans, the 6-foot-5 wide receiver prospect out of Texas A&M, is rated as the second-best wide receiver in the draft and has already been compared to Jackson. Currently, Louis Murphy is listed as the Bucs' No. 2 receiver, and that's not likely to be the case after the draft.
Evans is a beast in the red zone, and he frequently made big plays downfield, helping build up the legend of Johnny Manziel even more. Evans' 20.2 yards-per-catch last season were well above the marks of the other 43 college wide receivers with at least 1,000 receiving yards.
The Buccaneers brought in veteran quarterback Josh McCown to lead the offense, and you have to look no further than what he worked with last season in Chicago to see a familiar situation for him. Last season, he threw to another set of big receivers, in Brandon Marshall (6-foot-4) and second-year WR Alshon Jeffery (6-foot-3). In the seven games McCown started in the middle of the season, Jeffery and Marshall finished with a combined six 100-yard games and eight touchdown catches.
Evans would likely be used as the third or fourth receiving option when the season started, with Jackson, TE Tim Wright and RB Doug Martin seeing the most targets. But by midseason, he'd likely earn McCown's and new offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford's trust.
Brandin Cooks & Michael Vick
The Jets brought in veteran scrambling QB Michael Vick, who will serve as a mentor to Geno Smith, along with WR Eric Decker. The additions make this Jets offense more dynamic than it has been at any point during head coach Rex Ryan's tenure. While the Jets plan on starting Smith in September, I don't see it happening.
Vick is definitely on the back end of his career, especially for a quarterback with running ability, and the Jets have Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill as Decker's receiving counterparts. Decker and TE Jeff Cumberland will work well in the red zone, but the Jets need a playmaker to stretch the field. That's exactly what Cooks brings to the table.
Cooks is a bigger version of Rams WR Tavon Austin, with speed to burn. His 4.33 40-yard dash was the fastest among all wide receivers at the NFL combine. He led FBS college teams in 2013 with 1,730 receiving yards, and only one receiver had more than Cooks' 128 catches or more than his 16 touchdown grabs.
As a smallish receiver, Cooks will have to bring some attitude and nastiness to the NFL, much like other small NFL receivers like Steve Smith and Lance Moore. He's also going to need some guts to go over the middle if he's playing in the slot, much like Wes Welker or Danny Amendola.